Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s

The ‘80s are considered the golden era for sports, mainly because it’s the time when the best athletes and players have dominated every sporting event. The best part is the blossoming teams who would bring home the championship cup, in addition to amazing leagues. 

Get to know the most popular sports of the 80s and why these are popular. As the stage for sporting events is slowly getting established, the earlier times proved that sportsmanship bounds beyond era. 

  • Basketball
  • Baseball
  • Boxing
  • Football
  • Volleyball
  • Field Hockey
  • Archery
  • Aquatics
  • Canoeing
  • Gymnastics
Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s
Image Source: Halos Heaven


The year 1980 is undeniably a great time for the sport basketball because of the best players like Michael Jordan, Bird, and Magic. NBA produced the best players at this time, mainly for the fluid games minus the control-freak coaches. 

Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s
Image Source: Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Off the basketball games, the 1980s also introduced iconic shoe commercials and the draft lottery, making the sport more influential and famous. Because cable only came in the mid-’80s, people have to watch live to see their favorite teams play. 

The decade also brought people more into the sport because of the Dallas Mavericks’ amazing line up including Aguirre, Blackman, Ellis, Harper, Perkins, Tarpley, and Schrempf. There are also many players who earned popularity in this decade, especially the most talked about Wilkins, Drexler, Nance, and others. 


In baseball, the 1980 decade is mostly overlooked but a huge transition for an even grander time. There were many great moments in the sport, including iconic home runs, superstars rising on the media, including Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, and Willie Mays. 

Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s
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There are about 30 home runs in the decade, reaching 40s around 13 times. It’s the time for superstars to shine with Mark McGwire clubbing 49 home runs along with Andre Dawson. The latter was named National League MVP and McGwire the American League Rookie of the Year in 1987. 

What helped to popularize the sport is the host of movies produced in the decade. In fact, the 1980s was considered the golden age for baseball movies for the phenomenal films created like The Natural (1984), Bull Durham (1988), Eight Men Out (1988), Field of Dreams (1989), and Major League comedy (1989). 


Anyone mentioning the boxing scene in the ‘80s surely knows the four top athletes, Marvin Hagler, Ray Leonard, Thomas Hitman, and Roberto Duran. These incredible players staged the most epic and worthy fights in the welterweight and middleweight, increasing the popularity of the sport. 

Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s
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It was Michael Spinks who stood out in the pack in the light heavyweight division. The best of the best boxers coming from different parts of the world were highlighted in this decade. It’s worth mentioning Azumah Nelson from Africa, as well as the youngest world champion Wilfred Benitez. 

Boxing enjoyed the mainstream appeal in the decade for the amazing boxers, as well as the diversity in the scene. International superstars are flooding in the United States rings, which kept boxing thriving around the world. Networks threw a lot of money to reap the benefits, and the sport gained proper exposure. 


It was the 1980s when NFL celebrated its seventh thriving decade. Although there was no expansion at the time, few franchises were on the move to get more superstars, as football is starting to gain more international attention. 

Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s
Image Source: Richard Mackson-US Presswire

The most shocking news also came in this decade with Baltimore Colts owner Robert Irsay relocated the team to Indianapolis without any press announcement. This news has left the fans dumbfounded and stunned at the same time the following morning. 

In 1988, before the season starts, the Cardinals moved to Arizona after a 28-long-year stay. It’s also worth mentioning 1986 when Chicago Bears won against New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX in New Orleans. Washington also rose in the 1980 decade, capping the 1982 and 1987 seasons. 


Men’s volleyball is definitely a hit in the 1980 decade, with countless unsung heroes dominating the sports scene. Marv Dunphy is a name to remember when he helped win two NCAA titles for Pepperdine as a coach. 

Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s
Image Source: Delaware Volleyball

There were also lows during this time for the United States refused to compete at the Moscow Olympics. Even Soviet Union has turned away from the Los Angeles Games in 1984, and Cuba didn’t participate in the Olympics in 1988. 

It’s worth mentioning how Iran has appeared above the crowd with six out of eight winning streaks. The Paralympic volleyball team has appeared in every gold-medal match, which elevated volleyball’s popularity worldwide. The Soviet Union also won the gold in 1988, overturning Peru. 

Field Hockey

Part of the reason why field hockey became so popular in the 1980s decade is the Summer Olympics. This took place on July 20 to 31 in India, Spain, and Zimbabwe. There were a total of 33 matches across two venues, where 177,880 spectators were on the lookout. 

Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s
Image Source: Olympic Channel

The Indian hockey team was given a taste of independence, who won the hat-trick titles for the earlier decades. India also snagged the title and beat Spain in an end-to-end final, securing the eighth and last Olympic gold medal. Expectations were raised by the team sure performed well. 

The players worth mentioning were Vasudevan Baskaran of the India team, along with Bir Bhadur Chettri, Sylvanus Dung Dung, and Merwyn Fernandes. For Spain, there’s Juan Amat, Juan Arbós, Jaime Arbós, Javier Cabot, and Ricardo Cabot. The Women’s division was also thriving, with Zimbabwe winning the gold medal over Czechoslovakia. 


To get a taste of how popular archery was in the ‘80s, think about how the sport was included in the Olympic Games. In fact, the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow had set the stage for the world’s best archers to meet and compete for the gold medal. 

Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s
Image Source: Universidad Simon Bolivar

This was an interesting event for a new format was created called the double FITA, which included a total of 188 arrows shot over the course of four days. This was done at four different distances, from 30 meters to 70 meters. For the men’s division, it was extended up to 90 meters. 

The winning team for the Men’s event was Finland with Tomi Poikolainen over Soviet Union’s Boris Isachenko. In the Women’s division, there’s Keto Losaberidze from the Soviet Union, who won against Finland’s Päivi Meriluoto. 


In the sporting segment under aquatics, people always look forward to swimming, but there’s also diving and water polo. The 1980s is a golden time too for these sporting events for the inclusion in the Summer Olympics 1980. There were a total of 333 participants coming from 41 different countries. 

Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s
Image Source: NBC Olympics

Names that stood out during this time were Jörg Woithe from Spain, Sergey Kopliakov of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Salnikov of URS, Bengt Baron of Sweden, and Aleksandr Sidorenko of URS. One can notice how the Soviet Union dominated the aquatics during the Summer Olympics. 

The Olympics was also controversial for the reduced participants under FINA, presenting eight finishers qualified for finals A. The finals B included those who won in the 400-meter events. The same format was continued for the 1996 Olympic Games


Canoes are incredibly popular in the 1980s decade, not only as a hobby sport but also in professional leagues such as the Olympic Games. There were breakthroughs in the boat design as well as the foundations or disciplines surrounding the sport. 

Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s
Image Source: Mpora

At first, canoeing was considered a demo event at the Olympics, then turned into a 16-discipline sport. It was in 1924 when the sport gained its fame as it was staged in the prestigious Olympic Games. 

Even though the Soviet Union has ditched the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, it has remained at the top when it comes to sport. Its rival country Germany has taken almost half of all the gold medals back in the decade. 


The 1980 decade is surely a golden one for gymnastics. It was included in the Summer Olympics, setting the stage for the world’s best when it comes to gymnastic events. The U.S. teams were out of this world, comprising Bart Conner, Phil Cahoy, Ron Galimore, Kathy Johnson, Luci Collins, and Marcia Frederick. 

Discover the Top 10 Most Popular Sports of the 80s
Image Source: Gymnastics Bar

It was worth mentioning how the Olympic Games hosted fourteen different artistic gymnastics events, arriving at eight for men’s division and six for women’s. All these events were held at the Central Lenin Stadium in Moscow. 

Just like other sporting events, the Soviet Union has dominated gymnastics, with Elena Davydova winning the all-around gold medal against Romania’s Maxi Gnauck. The nation snatched a total of nine gold medals, eight silver and five bronze. 

Bottom Line

Popular sports in the 1980 decade ranges from field sports to gymnastics, aquatics, and archery. The Summer Olympics in 1980 has paved the way for the world to know the greatest athletes of the time, as well as discover interesting sporting events.


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